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When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last…

di Richard E. Rubenstein

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512836,793 (4)4
"Three hundred years after Jesus' crucifixion, the Roman Empire witnessed the first major turning point in the history of Christianity. The violent debate, now known as the Arian Controversy, lasted more than sixty years, dividing the Roman Empire and forever changing the face of the Christian Church. Was Jesus of Nazareth God Himself, walking the earth in human form? Or was he a uniquely holy man adopted by God as His Son and raised to divine rank?" "Richard E. Rubenstein, an expert on religious conflict, transports us to an empire fraught with contradiction and turmoil." "The protagonists were Arius, a learned and eloquent priest, and Athanasius, a brilliant and dedicated, yet violent, bishop. Arius argued that Jesus was less than God and that his true role was to serve as a model of virtue for all humanity. Athanasius thought this was heresy and an assault on Jesus himself. Between these formidable adversaries stood Constantine the Great, Rome's first Christian emperor." "Rubenstein brings us into the debates of religious leaders and politicians and the struggles of commoners as we witness the battle over the true identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of his mission on earth."--BOOK JACKET.… (altro)
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I skimmed through this very quickly looking for some specific information, but I'd give this three and a half stars based on its general approach and writing style.

The author describes it, in the acknowledgements, as "a work of storytelling and interpretation," and this seems an apt description. If you'd like to know more about how Christianity came to believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (ie, the Arian controversy) with more attention to human history and historical context than to theological subtleties, in a lively rather than dry academic style, this is the book for you. (A fair warning: Christians who think that the theological developments of the early church were pure and unsullied by human venality are in for a sad disillusionment.)

The book is definitely aimed at the general reader and requires no prior knowledge of either the theology or the history of the time. Endnotes provide pointers to the historical and theological details for the more academically oriented reader, citing both primary and secondary sources. And there's a fine map of the "the Roman world in the fourth century" inside the front and back covers that's very helpful in visualizing where all these people were from and where these things were happening.
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  VictoriaGaile | Oct 16, 2021 |
We all know the story of Jesus' life, his death, his resurrection, and the persecution of his early followers. Less well known is the struggle the early Christians had in deciding whether Jesus was God Himself or the holiest of men, adopted by God and raised to divine rank
  StFrancisofAssisi | Sep 6, 2021 |
Quite interesting look at the Council of Nicea, the opposing factions of early Christianity and the political maneuvering that resulted in the doctrine of Jesus' divinity as opposed to him being just the son of God. Not for light reading, this is a dry read for a casual historian, but it portrays the story behind the events that kept apologists employed trying to explain the trinity. ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
I didn't expect it to be this good. It was very interesting and I probably would still have read the entire book even if I am not required to for class. ( )
  smiley0905 | Sep 3, 2015 |
Read this with [b:The Subversion of Christianity|274828|The Subversion of Christianity|Jacques Ellul|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1173330053s/274828.jpg|266494] by Jacques Ellul. Rubenstein describes the battle between the Arians and the Athanasians, a dispute finally resolved by Constantine in the 4th century. The alliance with Constantine's political force then made orthodoxy and heresy possible. Levy's book on the history of [b:Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie|537763|Blasphemy Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie|Leonard W. Levy|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1175627649s/537763.jpg|525181] is also a really good companion book)

The Arians, lead by Arius, believed that it was crucial that Jesus was human and not God, otherwise his death and resurrection were meaningless. Athanasius, leader of the Nicene Christians, promoted the belief that Jesus was always divine.

The book is quite a page-turner and you realize how much Christian thought had to evolve and change during the first three centuries; an evolution that was a much politically driven as theological

Update: Found my original review, written several years ago:

Rubenstein is an American Jew who specializes in conflict resolution. Several years ago he became interested in the great Arian heresy, the debate over whether Jesus was simply a great prophet or, in fact, divine. The outcome of this debate, which occurred some three hundred years after the crucifixion, had profound implications for Western society and the relationship between Christians and Jews. Before its resolution, dialogue existed between the two religions; afterwards, “the closeness faded,” heresy became rigidly defined and was prosecuted vigorously and harshly.

Gregory of Nyssa, writing around 380 C.E. reveals in a sermon that the debate over Christ’s divinity was a subject for common discourse. He spoke of ordinary tradesmen, not just theologians arguing the matter. Arianism was at least as popular a belief as the doctrine that Jesus was, in fact, God; or, to put it another way, “whether he is a creation of God or the Creator himself.” The intensity of the argument reflected its importance. What today might seem obviously heretical was not at all at that time. The decision, to some extent, was in the hands of the laity. Whichever way they could be persuaded would determine the future doctrine of the relatively young church. Eminent churchmen discovered they were leaders of politically potent mobs.

By the beginning of the fourth century, Christianity had become more than just a minor new cult. It no longer consisted of wild-eyed madmen eagerly awaiting the end of the world and more than willing to sacrifice themselves on the cross. Church leaders had become institutionalized, future-minded, and willing to compromise. The Great Persecution under Diocletian was Rome’s last attempt to limit Christianity’s expansion. Not just slaughtered wholesale, Christians were afforded the option of sacrificing to pagan gods, and ordered to turn over their relics and sacred texts in return for their lives. Many church officials cooperated; those who did not became heroes and the justification for much of what was to follow. The Donatists, followers of Donatus, one of those priests who did not cooperate and who survived Roman torture, demanded that “corrupt” priests should not be allowed to return to their former positions of leadership in the church. This led to basic adoption of the principle that the office held was sacred even though the humans who filled that position might not be. The feeling remained strong enough that even St. Augustine, a century later, urged the massacre of all Donatists.

When Constantine gained power following the death of Galerius and Diocletian, he was concerned by the growing rifts in the Christian church. Having adopted Christianity, he was reluctant to see these disputes threaten his political power. The followers of Arius were growing in number and added additional themes to the Donatist debate. Was a worldly organization and hierarchy compatible with the goals of the church? What standards should be required of church leaders? Was Jesus’ life to be emulated or was this possible only for saintly individuals? The Edict of Milan in 313, in promising freedom of religion, created an environment that encouraged more open debate.

The dispute in Egypt over Christ’s divinity was getting out of hand, however, and Constantine sent his trusted bishop, Hosius, to mediate. Constantine considered the argument as basically trivial. He wanted the name-calling and violence stopped, suggesting that surely they could debate the issue sensibly much like the Greek philosophers had.

Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, also known as “papa” or Pope to his many minions, was very powerful. The position of Arius, that Christ was created, represented a challenge to his temporal authority. In 318, Arius was called before a council to defend his position. He was ex-communicated and prohibited from taking communion. Being a wily fellow, he garnered his old friend Eusebius and other bishops to his position — all bishops were considered equal at this time. Eusebius was highly respected and he gathered his own council at which Arius’s views were proclaimed “orthodox.” This was truly schismatic.

The great Council of Nicaea suggested by Hosius was held in that place at the request of Constantine. It is interesting to note that the Arians were considered to be the conservatives because they were trying to preserve the distinction between God and Jesus that made sense to those coming from Jewish roots. The anti-Arians thought this belief was outmoded. Many now considered Judaism to be anachronistic — Constantine hated Jews — and they believed that while moral development was important, security was more so and only a strong God, strong Church, and strong empire could provide that security. Naturally, Constantine concurred with this position. He planned to imbue the Church with “the Roman virtues of law, order, and efficient administration.”

Ironically, the Council at Nicaea was not ecumenical. It also did not result in the rapprochement that Constantine hoped for. Instead, a Greek word that he suggested meaning “essence” was to cause all sorts of trouble. He was appalled by the diversity of tradition and belief that seemed to thrive in the early Christian church. Rules for priests varied, church holy days were not consistent, penances for sins were harsher in some parishes than others. Nicaea became a sort of watershed, the last time Christians with opposing theological beliefs acted civilly toward each other. Positions hardened, heresy became more rigidly defined — and became linked to temporal power — and those in opposition became subject to persecution as the Church allied itself with the state. It was only a short leap from anti-Christian to satanic and evil and soon the power of the Roman state became available to enforce the majority view.

After the death of Constantine, the empire was split between Constans in Rome, a supporter of the anti-Arians, and Constantius, in Constantinople, more favorably inclined toward the Arians. The distinction became less clear with time and by allying themselves with different political loci the religious factions often condemned themselves to assorted political whims. The eventual outcome was a split between east and west, between Greek and Latin churches.

For a concise summary of the debate between the two factions, see pages 115-119. Rubenstein, being an expert in conflict resolution, uses the debate to illustrate several principles of conflict resolution including, “false consensus may be more productive of conflict than honest disagreement.” This is a fascinating book that reveals how much the Church’s alliance with the power of the state influenced eventual Church doctrine.


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1 vota ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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"Three hundred years after Jesus' crucifixion, the Roman Empire witnessed the first major turning point in the history of Christianity. The violent debate, now known as the Arian Controversy, lasted more than sixty years, dividing the Roman Empire and forever changing the face of the Christian Church. Was Jesus of Nazareth God Himself, walking the earth in human form? Or was he a uniquely holy man adopted by God as His Son and raised to divine rank?" "Richard E. Rubenstein, an expert on religious conflict, transports us to an empire fraught with contradiction and turmoil." "The protagonists were Arius, a learned and eloquent priest, and Athanasius, a brilliant and dedicated, yet violent, bishop. Arius argued that Jesus was less than God and that his true role was to serve as a model of virtue for all humanity. Athanasius thought this was heresy and an assault on Jesus himself. Between these formidable adversaries stood Constantine the Great, Rome's first Christian emperor." "Rubenstein brings us into the debates of religious leaders and politicians and the struggles of commoners as we witness the battle over the true identity of Jesus Christ and the meaning of his mission on earth."--BOOK JACKET.

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